The fourth month of 2014 minor league action had several great performances in the Mariners' organization. We give our take on the best of those from each team by revealing the SeattleClubhouse selections for Player of the Month of July for each level.
Andres Torres - RHP: 1-0, 0.42 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 4 G, 3 GS, 21 2/3 IP, 12 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 19 SO, .156 oAVG
I know that Torres is in his first year of pro ball with Seattle and that he was signed after spring training opened in 2014, but I can't find any more biological information than that and what is above on the 18-year-old right-hander. What I can see are his stats, including a 24.0% strikeout rate and just a 4.6% walk rate in his 45 1/3 innings on the season. In July Torres made four appearances and three starts, going at least five innings in each outing and only allowing one earned run while striking out 19 and holding opposing hitters to a .156 average.
Venezuelan League stats always come with the caveat of league size and limited competition, but the 6-foot-3 Torres is doing everything from a statistical standpoint that you could ask of a young pitching prospect in that league. He's walked one or zero batters nine times and only walked two once and he's done so while striking out at least three in every appearance. Young, raw international signees who can control their stuff while getting strikeouts and preventing hits aren't all that common, so this is a player to keep in the back of your mind for the Mariners.
Brayan Rojas - OF: .329/.480/.447 (25-76), 4 2B, 3B, HR, 10 RBI, 20 BB, 22 SO, 7-8 SB
The Dominican is a much more competitive level of baseball than is Venezuela, so the fact that Rojas -- another 2014 signing by the M's -- put up such strong numbers in July in the 36-team league is encouraging. After walking just five times in his first 115 plate appearances as a pro, the 19-year-old, right-hand hitting Rojas drew 20 walks in his 99 plate appearances in July, leading to the 10th best OBP in the DSL. He also stole seven bases in eight tries.
Rojas posted just a .623 OPS in his 23 games leading up to July, but the 6-foot-2, 180 pounder bumped every aspect of his game, statistically speaking, in that month. He picked up his first home run and scored a team-best 19 runs while drawing almost one-quarter of the total team walks. Another name that is more name and numbers than anything else right now, but another one to file away and check up on going forward.
Osmel Morales - RHP:3-2, 1.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 5 G, 4 GS, 24 IP, 19 H, 5 ER, 6 BB, 29 SO, .224 oAVG
After singing with Seattle in December of 2009, Morales spent four years pitching in the Venezuelan League for the Mariners. And while his 1.69 ERA in 79 2/3 IP over 29 games in that span was enough to make you look, four years in a foreign rookie league usually means the future isn't all that bright. But the now 21-year-old Morales has continued to shine in the Arizona Rookie League, and in 24 innings in July there he struck out a team-high 29, walked just six and won three times in five outings.
Morales has struck out at least six batters in five of his seven appearances this season and has held right-handed hitters to an OPS barely over .500 with a strikeout rate of over 30.0%. Again, four years in the VSL shouldn't be forgotten, and at 21 he is a little "old" for the AZL, but Morales has been very impressive in these first stages of his stateside career, and it could lead to an August promotion for the 6-foot-3 righty.
Estarlyn Morales - OF:.348/.441/.543 (32-92), 5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 14 BB, 21 SO, 5-7 SB
When June ended, Morales -- who played three seasons in the Dominican before debuting stateside in Arizona last season -- was batting just .205/.234/.318 for Pulaski. But the 21-year-old right-handed hitter went on a tear in July, collecting 10 multi-hit games and raising his OPS by nearly .300 while pacing the Mariners in many offensive categories.
There have been players that have fared well in Pulaski and struggled to ever get off the ground after as they move up the organizational ladder, but Morales is looked at as an intriguing if unpolished prospect by opposing scouts that have seen him. He's clearly been one of Pulaski's best hitters, and he's making improvements in his approach in-season, which is always encouraging in a prospect.
Cruz Pereira - LHP:0-0, 0.77 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 10 G, 23 1/3 IP, 13 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 20 SO, .153 oAVG
After spending four seasons in the VSL, Pereira pitched well in the AZL in 2013 then threw in winter ball for Lara and put up an ERA of 1.54 that turned a few heads there. Seattle rewarded him by assigning the 23-year-old lefty to Everett to open this season. He's handled the semi-aggressive jump well to this point, being one of the more stable players on Everett's roster in the long relief role and rendering lefties virtually helpless (.149/.184/.234).
"Cruz has been a rubber armed reliever who can give you a quality outing in any role," Everett's Director of Media Relations and radio voice Pat Dillon told me. "He had a sensational July. Cruz has a fastball that tops out at 90, good curve and a change. He has been very tough on left-handed hitters." Again, he's older than most of his competition in the Northwest League and he doesn't have overpowering stuff, but interesting bullpen arms come in all forms.
Clinton Lumber Kings
Chantz Mack - OF:.314/.395/.471 (32-102), 3 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 15 BB, 18 SO, 4-6 SB
Seattle's 29th round pick in 2013 out of the University of Miami, Mack has already played for five of the seven stateside affiliates for Seattle since signing, bouncing around to wherever an outfielder is needed. But he appears to have found a home that fits him in Clinton. And that was a very needed commodity for the LumberKings in July. the left-handed hitting 23-year-old led the club in a number of offensive categories and led Clinton as they started to play more consistent baseball and become a factor as the Midwest League's second half started.
"Mack is the one player that has shown the ability and willingness to consistently go the other way," Clinton's Director of Media Relations and announcer Cheyne Reiter says. Adding, "Chantz is a guy that is going to work the count. He's completely content to fall down 0-1 or even 0-2 if he doesn't see a pitch that he wants. It seems like he walks about once a game, but he gets a ton of 7-, 8- or 9-pitch at-bats. He works counts and it is fun to watch." Mack wasn't meant to be 'the man' for Clinton, but he's assumed that role a bit on a depleted roster. "He's been the spark that the team had lacked since they lost Wilson, O'Neill and DeCarlo to injuries," said Reiter. "And he is a guy that always has fun, chasing down fly balls in the outfield, on the bus -- he's always smiling." Mack isn't a top prospect, but he is showing that he could turn out to be more than just the organizational filler type player because he gets the most out of his skills with great leadership qualities, too.
High Desert Mavericks
Jabari Henry - OF:.324/.423/.639 (35-108), 8 2B, 3B, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 17 BB, 23 SO
With apologies to Jordy Lara, who was not surprisingly named the Player of the Month for the Cal League after his monster .434/.477/.808 stretch but was promoted to Jackson before the month was over, he played in only 24 of the Mavs' games. And Henry, quite frankly, has been just outside of recognition for a number of pieces here throughout the season and I thought he deserved to be recognized. Playing in 28 games for High Desert in July, the 20 round pick out of Florida matched Lara's RBI output for the month with 27 while also pacing the club in walks, scoring 20 times and clubbing 17 extra base hits.
Henry isn't exactly on the same level as Lara as a prospect, either. Although he is a bit more defined on the defensive side of things and has better plate discipline, there is a feeling among scouts that too much of the damage done is still more a result of the level that he's at and the mistakes that are being made to him than his abilities to hit good pitching. They could be underselling him a bit, but we'll see how Henry fares as he continues to advance.
Victor Sanchez - RHP:2-0, 2.02 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6 GS, 35 2/3 IP, 25 H, 8 ER, 9 BB, 28 SO, .198 oAVG
Sanchez has been one of the youngest and brightest stars at each stop of his minor league career to date, and the 19-year-old is continuing to follow that path in 2014 in Double-A for the Mariners. He was dominant in almost every inning of his six starts in July for Jackson, pitching at least into the seventh inning in four of those games despite the club being tight with his pitch count most times out. After getting a late start to this season nursing an injury, Sanchez has been his regular consistent self in putting together yet another very strong season as he climbs through Seattle's system.
Jackson's Director of Media Relations and the Voice of the Generals, Chris Harris, said this about Sanchez in July: "For Sanchez, really the numbers in July speak for themselves. He was fantastic. His fastball velocity has improved and is now topping out around 92-93 on the gun. At 19, he is throwing three pitches for strikes with great fastball command and his changeup continues to be the best secondary by a long shot. But the breaking stuff is coming along too. He's healthy, pitching freely and I think he is right where the Mariners expected him to be at this point and the sky is the limit. Most ask what his future role will be, but once again at 19, I think we should just step back and watch him pitch and see what happens. There is no rush to move him quickly and he is really becoming comfortable in the Southern League."
Jesus Montero - DH/1B:.375/.409/.692 (39-104), 9 2B, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 6 BB, 16 SO
Montero isn't exactly a prospect by the true definition of the word anymore, but neither are most of the other players who stood out for Tacoma in July, so I'm bending some rules here. After a fast start in April and just so-so results in May and June, Montero took off in July with a new stance that seemingly allowed him to tap into his plus power more regularly. Those 17 extra base hits in 27 games was tied for the 15th most in all of MiLB and the 33 RBI he picked up were tied for the second most among all minor leaguers. It was the longest stretch of encouraging performance at the plate that Montero has put together at any level since joining the Mariners. And maybe it is a sign that he's maturing.
I spoke with Tacoma manager Roy Howell on Montero, and he gave me this extended take: "He worked a lot with Cory Snyder with the new stance. He feels -- and we feel -- that it keeps him back better so he can make better contact and have better bat plane to the ball. We stood him up to see better, but the approach, the mental side, is just getting him to attack the fastball and stay off the slider away. He does feel that he can reach it better now if he has to, but we want him to hit the fastball. No matter who you are you're going to see some fastballs. So we want him to attack the fastball and hit the mistake breaking balls. The defense at first base? That's a process. He does really well in drills, but in a game he goes straight into catcher mode and wants to block anything hit to him. He does the fungo work and does fine, but in the game it seems like a natural reaction to go down and stop the ball. Is he an everyday first baseman at the big league level? Probably not. But we're working with him to see how comfortable he can get there." You may not believe in Montero the way that many believed in him in his Yankees prospect days, but he still is a potential impact bat.
Just two months are left in the minor league season and the playoff push is here. We'll check in a few more times for player of the month at each level as the season winds down. And -- of course -- will have continuing coverage from players at all levels throughout the season. So stay in touch with SeattleClubhouse for thorough reports from every level throughout the year.
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